The North Carolina academic scandal that’s unfolding makes what the Harricks did look like small potatoes.
The academic fraud in the university’s African-American studies department was first revealed three years ago. But a new investigation shows that the fake classes were even more common than previously thought, and that athletes in particular benefited from the classes, in some cases at the behest of their academic counselors. Previous investigations had found no ties to campus athletics.
On campus, the fake classes, which at least 3,100 students took, were hardly a secret. They were particularly popular with athletes, who made up about half of enrollments. Nearly a quarter of students who took the classes were football and basketball players. And the classes made a difference: good grades that students didn’t have to work for made more than 80 eligible to graduate who otherwise would have flunked out.
The big question, of course, is what the NCAA intends to do about it. This situation cuts at the core of what the NCAA likes to proclaim is what collegiate athletics is supposed to be about. In that sense, it’s a far more troubling problem than what Mark Emmert rushed to deal with at Penn State.
The early indication appears to be that there won’t be a rush to judgment.
There is a lot of gray area for the NCAA to work through. The parties directly responsible for managing the fake classes aren’t facing criminal charges and cooperated with the investigation. But the report clearly points fingers at the two. The trickier part the NCAA will have to navigate is that while there was widespread knowledge throughout the campus of what was going on with these classes, the report does not directly implicate higher-ups. As the New York Times puts it,
Although the report found no evidence that high-level university officials knew about the fake classes, it faulted the university for missing numerous warning signs over many years.
Deciding who gets to skate and how much institutional blame is merited is where the NCAA is going to spend most of its time in review of the situation.